The Role of Experts in a Divorce in Washington
By Erik Bjornson, Attorney at Law
There are many circumstances where a party may find it advantageous to hire one or more experts at the start of a divorce and through trial.
Experts in preparation for settlement
Most people would prefer to settle case before trial. However, how can one know whether a settlement offer is fair without knowing the value of the assets that will be divided? An expert may be useful to testify concerning the value of a business that one both parties run.
An expert appraiser may be used before trial to evaluate the value of the real estate that the parties own. Once the appraiser issues a report, the report can be passed along to the other party and their attorney to facilitate settlement. Perhaps the value of the asset analyzed by the appraiser, such as the house, will be accepted by all of the parties.
Expert testimony regarding custody issues
When the rules of evidence permit, a party may bring in a health care professional as an expert such as psychologist or psychiatrist. A mental health expert may be able to give testimony concerning the mental health of each party as well as one or more of the children. The expert may testify as to the psychological basis as to why one parent is preferable over the other to have primary custody of the children.
The guardian investigator/guardian ad litem
A guardian is usually appointed by the court to make an independent assessment of the parties and their children. The guardian typically makes a recommendation to the court regarding the placement of the children. Although a guardian is not hired by one of the parties exclusively as a typical expert is, a guardian often testifies as an expert. For example, a guardian in a case may be a practicing psychologist or counselor. In this case, the guardian will almost certainly be making conclusions and statements concerning the case that involves their training.
Experts can assist the client and attorney by providing information to the court that is specialized that the client is not qualified to provide. Because of the time and expense of hiring an expert, one must have very specific issues that the expert will address in mediation, preparation for trial, and during the trial.